I drink liquor and I eat meat. When left to my own devices, I stay up through the night and read or write and watch movies or old TV. Sometimes I wake up and dogs are on me. I laugh a lot and I do not look at physical exercise as an excuse to wear cute gear. What the hell, you may ask, am I doing in a yoga class?
Maybe you are attracted to yoga but have never gone to a class because, well… you think wispy girls practice yoga and you are not one. Maybe you’re a boy. Maybe you are a girl but don’t see yourself as that kind of girl; maybe you’ve heard the music coming out of those yoga studios when you walk past and think it’s dorky because you’re a crabby old punk or you’re afraid some bark-eating Druid is going to shake a rain stick at you… are you familiar with the phrase “it’s not the band I hate, it’s the fans”?
OK, it is true, yoga’s resurgence in popularity means there are some humorless practitioners out there – as there are in any field or school of thought.
I am certainly not an expert or a scientist engaged in wellness studies, and my own experience lies somewhere between the flake and the fury.
For you who talk yourselves out of trying yoga: whether you think it’s flaky; “not real exercise”; or precisely because of its popularity that class is a place to be intimidated by yogi fashion plates – clear lip gloss and earth tones only please – perhaps letting you in on my version of it will talk you back in. Or at least open the door a crack.
In the interest of full disclosure: I have always enjoyed a fair degree of natural flexibility. This can be fun when you’re five and can jam a leg up and behind you like a discarded doll, or when you can turn your feet backwards and weird out your family. It can be a cause of concern to good yoga teachers though, especially if you are in possession of natural flexibility without a lot of strength, as it means you can fling yourself into a position without necessarily building up to it, and hurt yourself. I have been known to enthusiastically fling myself into a position and laugh at myself when I get there. I have learned to ease into it.
When I first started attending class with any degree of regularity this is how I explained my presence: I was already flexible so I was really there to get strong. I have bad asthma, so I thought that all that controlled breathing in class might help me with my lungs. For some strange reason, I used to giggle whenever the original term was used for a posture: for example Savasana instead of Corpse Pose. (Probably self-consciousness on my part.) Namaste, traditionally said with hands pressed together as if in prayer at your heart at the end of class, may cause you to roll your eyes, but after a while the meaning sinks in.
I tried different classes at different studios with different teachers and came to settle on a favorite that offered classes at different levels (beginner, etc.) in different types of yoga (Hatha, Ashtanga etc.) for an hour and a half.
Something started to happen to me over time in regular attendance; I did become more physically fit, but it wasn’t just that. I became more relaxed over all; I slept better and more deeply at night; the asthma improved. My mood improved in general. When I went through a time of great personal family stress – as most people do at some time or another – regular class helped. I may have looked like I was hanging on by a thread, and that may well have been true, but that thread may have been yoga. Things would certainly have felt worse without it.
I still attend a yoga class regularly, though not as much as I could. Or maybe should. It is still of great benefit to me. I am living proof that one can practice yoga and still enjoy scotch as much as I ever did. It’s true I can relax more when my mat matches my lipstick. Red. For that matter, I’m sure the vegetarians can smell red meat on my breath. But all of these things mean I can practice yoga and still be myself and benefit from it. I hope if you read this, you feel like you can too.
By the way, Namaste roughly translated means “the divine in me bows down to the divine in you.” It is a pretty great way to end a class: both student and teacher acknowledging their humanity, and what is great and what is humble in that.
And if I bow down close enough, my lips will just reach the rim of that scotch glass…